There is a retired man who lives down the road from me.
Every winter he and his wife escape to their villa in Spain, to return to Blighty just in time for the first strawberries of Wimbledon. And every winter I try not to be too envious as I scurry down the street battling blizzards and rain, thinking of them sunning themselves on the beach.
The other morning I saw him looking very brown (and very cold) walking down to the paper shop. I hadn’t seen him since before Christmas.
‘Good morning!’ he exclaimed. ‘So what’s new?’
Now regular visitors to this blog will know that quite a lot is new in my world since I’d last seen him.
‘Well my boyfriend was diagnosed with a brain tumour,’ I began. ‘And then we were told that it was malignant melanoma,’ I added. ‘But, you know, the shock’s starting to wear off now and we’re just trying to get on with things as normally as possible.’
The man stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed hold of my arm.
‘Oh. My. God,’ he said (please add melodramatic, Irish accent for full effect).
I nodded and smiled. ‘It’s OK, we’re just trying to – ‘
But by this point he was staring off into the middle distance, shaking his head. ‘Unbelievable,’ he said. ‘I mean, you’ve both had your fair share of heartbreak.’
I looked at him quizzically. What was he talking about?
‘Life’s been hard,’ he continued, as I did a quick mental sweep of all of our two minute chats over the years. As far as I could remember there had been a fair bit of talk about asylum seekers and knife crime and how the country was going to the dogs (before he bought his copy of the Daily Mail). But I had never talked to him about any personal heartbreak before or my , ‘just trying to keep everything together,’ as he was now saying, lost in some private world of sorrow that he had obviously created for me. Was it because I read The Mirror, I couldn’t help wondering.
‘No really, it’s all fine,’ I tried to cut in, but it was too late. now he was staring into my eyes and clutching both my hands.
‘And then,’ he said, ‘Then, when you finally find each other, and you finally get a bit of happiness in your life, this happens and it’s all snatched away from you. Terrible. Terrible,’ he muttered as we arrived at the paper shop.
I said good-bye and kept walking, feeling a whole day’s happiness begin to slide from my reach.
My instinct was to go back home and crawl into bed. But then I remembered my pledge to live like a man for a week (see previous blog).
I wasn’t exactly sure what a man would do in this situation but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t go home and weep. So I marched back to my house and straight up to my son’s room. As soon as I entered his bedroom I knew exactly what to do. ‘Pillow fight!’ I yelled at the top of my voice, before charging at him.